Monday, February 24, 2020

Middle Grade Monday: Restart, by Gordon Korman

Title: Restart
Author: Gordon Korman
Publication Info: Scholastic Press, 2017. 256 pages (Hardback).  
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher’s Blurb: 
Chase's memory just went out the window.

Chase doesn't remember falling off the roof. He doesn't remember hitting his head. He doesn't, in fact, remember anything. He wakes up in a hospital room and suddenly has to learn his whole life all over again . . . starting with his own name.

He knows he's Chase. But who is Chase? When he gets back to school, he sees that different kids have very different reactions to his return.

Some kids treat him like a hero. Some kids are clearly afraid of him.

One girl in particular is so angry with him that she pours her frozen yogurt on his head the first chance she gets.

Pretty soon, it's not only a question of who Chase is--it's a question of who he was . . . and who he's going to be.

My Review: 
Restart is an quick and enjoyable read with an interesting premise. I was a bit dubious at first about the whole business of Chase’s amnesia, since he could remember nothing of who he was, but everything, apparently, that he had learned in school (or seemed not to learn). I don’t know enough about head injuries and amnesia to judge, but it seemed unlikely to me that he would suddenly become a better student, as well as a better person. 

Once you suspend disbelief on such points, however, the idea is fantastic—that someone who is (now) a decent and caring individual discovers that he has been someone and done things he despises. That means that our protagonist is seeing bullying from two directions at once, and it gets worse (for him) when his “friends” from before his accident try to manipulate him into being his old self.

Korman has put a lot of thought into how bullying works and how a group of kids can become truly cruel and awful. I might have liked it better if there’d been some indication that the two friends with whom Chase has always ganged up were separated from each other occasionally and showed signs of being able to think, as well. They are definitely single-dimension characters, apparently unable to grow or change in any way (which does put Chase in the position of recognizing that some friends are toxic). In fact, most of the characters are pretty cartoon-y, and I don’t think middle-grade readers would be unable to cope with a touch more nuance.

As for the sports element, I am no fan of football, but the game doesn’t dominate the story. Still, the football element may appeal to some readers who would otherwise not even look at the book.

My Recommendation: 

For middle-school (11-14) boys, especially the sports-crazy. I can recommend it for any bullies, but they probably wouldn’t read it, or wouldn’t get it.

Full Disclosure: I checked Restart out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Photo Friday: Love from Capital Reef National Park

In honor of Valentine's Day, photos from one of my favorite parks! (Yeah, I’m a little late. Took a while to get both time and wi-fi to do this!)

Last October we met my husband’s brother and sister-in-law in Utah for a week of hiking and travel. We visited Arches National Park and then moved on to Capital Reef.  

The campground was full—fall is a popular time of year in Utah, as the summer heat is mellowed and  the cottonwood trees are turning color. We found an informal campsite outside the park, and enjoyed a quiet night, free from the campfire smoke that makes me no great fan of campgrounds. It got cold, though—down to about 20, I think.
Dining out in style. In the late afternoon it was warm in the sun, chilly in the shade.

In the morning we sent the guys off on a very long hike, which I couldn’t do because of my plantar fasciitis. Carol and I did our own explorations. These included a stop for pies at the little park bakery shop, and I noticed that they’d had the sprinklers running all night, icing the lawn and an overhanging tree.
Ice sculptures
We drove to the end of the dirt road, and followed the Capitol Gorge to some tanks, natural depressions that hold water most of the year. The lower ones were dry, but I thought the deep, shaded nook pictured below showed promise.

Sure enough, deep in there, I found water.
The leaves, water-striders, and tadpoles seemed to segregate themselves.
We also found the most amazing patterns in the sandstone. As a quilter, Carol loves patterns, and we spent a long time trying to get the perfect pictures of them.

More sandstone patterns
One of the most popular hikes in the park, due to high rewards for a modest hike, is Hickman Natural Bridge.

The mild micro-climate in the canyon along the Fremont river made it an appealing spot for a settlement in the early 1900s. The cottonwood in color behind the schoolhouse caught my eye. The schoolhouse could easily be the one where Big Al teaches in the Ninja Librarian books.

The schoolhouse
Inside, with the stove for winter warmth. The building is no longer open to wander in at will (it was when I last stopped, maybe 8 years ago), but you can see in the windows.
Desk with book and slate

If you look closely, the benches have desks attached to the back for the student behind. The front row is out of luck! The strip on the left of the photo is the reflection in the window :)
A few more photos, out of order because Blogger is wonky when using the iPad and I’m not going to risk rearranging them.
It wasn’t the trail. But there was a good view out there...
A big feature of Capitol Gorge is that it was a way through the reef (so-called because the tilted slabs reminded someone of a reef). Early travelers left their mark. Modern travelers who do so are jerks and deserve the fines they will get; sadly, the park has had to install cameras because people can be idiots.
A list of names high up on the canyon wall. Unsurprisingly, they are all male, and I’ll bet all young men :)
And, to leave you with an interesting image, more of the leaves in the isolated tank.

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2020
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Friday, February 14, 2020

Photo Friday: Arches National Park

While I'm busy traveling in Patagonia... I'm sharing some photos from a very different landscape, from last October! I shared photos from the first two parts of that trip here, and here (and I see I never  finished talking about the New England part of the trip). In the middle of October, we left the fall colors and flew to Denver (where we’d left our car), and continued the trip, meeting my husband’s brother and sister-in-law in Moab.

Highlight number 1 was Arches National Park. The low-light was that after all the mountain climbing in the first two parts of the trip, I had to back way off my injured foot, so my SiL and I did some nice short and easy hikes while the guys did the big ones (yes, I was envious).

Arches gets over a million visitors a year these days, which puts a lot of stress on the infrastructure (like the one road...). We dodged that by getting up and leaving our campground near Moab very, very early, and enjoying the best hours of the day in the park.
Ready to hit the road before sun-up. Our car is looking rather small these days!
The guys dropped us off and left the car so we could do a 1-mile one-way hike down through some of the formations as the sun hit (“Park Avenue” trail).

Sandstone colors and textures are endlessly fascinating, at least to me. Even without arches, Arches would be worth seeing for that.

Casting around for something to see without hurting my foot, we found Sand Dune Arch, which I hadn’t ever visited (probably because it’s so close to the road...). Love the dead or near-dead junipers against the red rock.

Carol and I were rewarded for both our patience in not doing the bigger hikes, and our diligence in trying to track down arches we hadn’t seen—we stumbled on a small, hand-written sign announcing 3 sites available in the park campground. As these sites much be reserved 6 months or more in advance, we’d never camped there! We nabbed one of the sites, and settled in to enjoy ourselves. Nothing like dinner with a view!
A sort of shepherd's pie thing, only without meat.

Being October, it was warm in the sun, cool in the shade, and still pleasant to go out after dinner for a couple more arches, easily walked to from camp.

Tapestery Arch in the late sun
We were able to walk right in under the arch and look up...

The second arch we almost missed--Skyline Arch, visible from the road and the campground, but accessible from the campground.

I don't usually do selfies, except to see if I've combed my hair. But this was kind of cool.
The next morning, my husband and I got up early to walk to Landscape Arch for sunrise.
Moonset. Or maybe it was moonrise the night before.
 Only one other photographer took the effort to get to the arch for the magic hour. Admittedly, it was made a lot easier by being in the campground, a quarter mile from the trailhead!

We stopped on the walk back to take a look at Pine Tree Arch, which is really nice.
I liked the shadows of the trees (junipers, really) on the sandstone.

Catch you the next time I have an adequate wi-fin connection!
The author (left) with my sister-in-law.
©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2020
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Friday, February 7, 2020

#12MOW: A challenge from the Urban Spaceman

An old blogging acquaintance has come back from a long hiatus (we both used to write to Chuck Wendig's prompts), and has issued a new writing challenge. For himself, and for anyone who wants to ride/write along. It involves writing something each Friday to a single month-long prompt, but in in different genres, starting with haiku and extending to flash fiction. Read all about it on the Urban Spaceman's blog.

I can't really keep up, most likely. But this week's challenge is haiku, and I figured I could manage 17 syllables.

The theme: WEALTH

Long way from my home,
Free to wander the whole world.
What could be richer?

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2020
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

IWSG: Out of town

... WAY out of town. If all has gone according to plan, I'm in the Valle Chacabuco in Chile. I'm in the middle of 10 days of travel and camping in some very remote areas, with no internet service. I'm probably not writing, aside from my journal. If I am, it's because my foot is hurting and I can't hike, so I hope I'm not!

So I'm not doing an IWSG post this month (and maybe not next month, though again I'll leave SOME trace to let you know I'm alive!). If I get a chance, I will try to visit a few of you, but I can't even promise to do return visits this time.

I do encourage everyone to head on over to the IWSG and hop around to see how other writers are doing. And what is the IWSG? Read on!

The Insecure Writer's Support Group is where writers can express their doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It's a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Check it out here and join if you want support with your writing. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. 

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Middle-grade Monday: Hunt for the Mad Wolf's Daughter

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Title: The Hunt for the Mad Wolf's Daughter
Author: Diane Magras; read by Joshua Manning
Publication Info: Listening Library, 2019. Hardcover, Kathy Dawson Books, 2019.
Source: Library digital resources

Publisher's Blurb:
In this Scottish medieval adventure, after attempting a daring rescue of her war-band family, Drest learns that Lord Faintree's traitorous uncle has claimed the castle for his own and convinced the knights that the lord has been slain . . . at her hand. Now with a hefty price on her head, Drest must find a way to escape treacherous knights, all the while proving to her father, the "Mad Wolf of the North," and her irrepressible band of brothers that she is destined for more than a life of running and hiding. Even if that means redefining what it means to be a warrior.

My Review:

I reviewed the companion to this book a few weeks ago. That I immediately went and put a hold on the sequel at the library tells you that I really liked the story, though it may also speak to the fact that the story isn't finished at the end of the first book (I suspect the publisher insisted the story be broken it in two to keep the books shorter). The second book did not disappoint.

The story is fast-paced, with twists and turns, and a growing friendship where once there was, if not hatred, then certainly anger and distrust. The best aspect of the book, in my opinion, is the way in which Drest demonstrates that being a warrior doesn't mean she can't be loving and empathetic. The character development is what raises Drest's story above the standard run of medieval adventures. I also appreciated that the author chose not to make this a fantasy of magic and sorcery. She has done her research well, and in the end notes gives just enough explanation of that research to interest a kid and explain where Drest's story teeters on the edge of too exceptional (starting with that girl warrior, and perhaps topping out with her ability--at 12 or 13?--to defeat a full-grown knight). 

Despite my occasional doubts about a person of Drest's age and size being able to accomplish everything she does, the author makes it believable, mostly. And I love that Drest is allowed to be and to remain a warrior, that it's not something she's going to "grow out of," but more something she's growing into. I also enjoy the way she imagines the voices of her brothers in her head, telling her what to do in moments of crisis.

The narration is excellent--Mr. Manning's deep growly voice fits the scene perfectly, even though at first it was startling to have a story about a girl narrated by someone with an extra-bass voice! (It wouldn't work if the book were in 1st person but though it is from Drest's point of view, it is 3rd person, and Manning has the feel of the Scottish lowlands and coasts.

My Recommendation:
If you like the period at all, or if you just like books about strong girls who aren't squished down by circumstance, read the books (be sure to start with The Mad Wolf's Daughter--this isn't a series to be read out of order). For kids from 10 up, due to moderate violence, discretely depicted.

FTC Disclosure: I checked The Mad Wolf's Daughter out of my library, and received nothing from the writer or publisher for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."